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Updated Nov 12, 2018 

Screenwriting Help E-Mail Blog

Nov 12, 2018

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This week's question

What's a good way to start a script? I mean what's the best way to write your first scene?

Luchesta W.

This week's Answer

Something's Happening Hook

That's an excellent question, Luchesta. Your first scene in one way or another must engage the reader/viewer. Curiosity, attention, interest must be garnered.  Remember: if we're seeing characters in a first scene who we're going to be seeing again, we don't know who they are, we've never met them, and we don't care about them (at least, not yet). In a way, they're just like people we don't know and we pass on the street or walk by. Actually, that's a good example to show what I'm talking about: If you were walking in a large crowd of people, say, in a mall, if somebody had a heart attack and fell to the floor, which person of the whole crowd would draw your attention? Exactly. We don't know the person, but the dramatic event grabbed our focus just like a good opening hook does in a movie. Why do you think they call it a "hook"? Hooks hook you, grab and pull you in a designated direction. That's what a good writer does: pulls you in a designated and designed direction.

Not only that, but a good first scene provides not just engrossing action and/or dialogue but also prompts a question. Why did that happen? Why did that character say that to the other character? Who is behind the mask who is doing this? Why did that gang of thieves just execute the other gang? Why did that spaceship just destroy that planet? Why is this script consultant writing all these questions and will he ever stop? 

Often, the hook is part of the setup for the story, giving the audience/viewer information about the hero's world or the world he/she will be entering soon. In a horror, the first scene often lets us know right off the bat how horrible the antagonist/monster/creepy person who shouldn't be allowed to run free like this really is and what the hero (whoever that is) will be up against. In a comedy, it's usually something that hits our funny bone, informing us to keep watching because many laughs are on the way. Sort of like a horror except that it's dead bodies that are on the way. Action films open with action; dramas open with dramatic moments, etc.

I recently received a script from somebody who really believed in their scary script and wanted me to read it and give my opinion. The first five pages were about a mundane and uneventful conversation between two people looking out at a river. I was going crazy, wanting something, anything to happen. I found myself wishing strange thoughts about what that could be: One of them murders the other. Both of them murder each other at the same time. A sea monster emerges and swallows them whole. One tells the other that he's cheating on is wife and then the guy kills him. The wife shows up unexpectedly and goes off with the sea monster. What I'm trying to be clear about is that, in your first, opening scene:

Something needs to happen!

But you might parry with "But what about 'My Dinner With Andre" where the opening scene is just two people talking? My answer: Notice how, even though, two men are just talking, their dialogue has a fascination about it. We're immediately wondering, "Who are these guys?" and "Why have them met and what's their relationship"? Dramatic interest.

So, to distill all this down into a simple phrase:  Get our attention.



Oh, sorry. My attention wandered and I forgot that I was writing a blog.

Doug Herman












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